Firing a Weapon and Killing in Combat Are Associated with Suicidal Ideation in OEF/OIF Veterans


Objective: Combat veterans are at risk for several adverse outcomes such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, hazardous alcohol use, and most critically, suicidal behaviors. The high rate of suicide in veterans has been understood as a correlate of PTSD and depression, but it is possible that certain specific types of combat experiences may lead to suicidal behaviors. Acts committed by veterans in the context of war such as killing may evoke a "moral injury," which leads to thoughts of ending one's life. Method: The present exploratory research examined relationships between combat experiences and suicidal ideation (SI) and PTSD in a sample of 68 Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans (91% male, mean age = 32.31 years) who had screened positive for alcohol misuse. We examined firing a weapon/killing in combat (Firing/Killing) and killing in combat (Killing) alone as predictors of SI and PTSD severity in both the full sample and men only. Results: Firing/Killing were associated with SI for the full sample and men only, and Killing showed a trend toward significance in predicting SI. Hierarchical regression analyses suggested that Firing/Killing did not predict PTSD for the full sample or men only, but Killing was predictive of PTSD for both samples. Conclusions: These results indicate that there may be differences in Firing/Killing and Killing alone in OEF/OIF veterans who screened positive for alcohol misuse. Thorough screening of combat experiences and addressing moral injury in returning combat veterans may help reduce high rates of suicide and PTSD.

Publication Title

Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy